Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Shalafae Archives - Tribute

Wherein Morrigana meets the Lord Shalafae. Betrayal and heartache, and imminent rape.

***

I strode down the hall on Uncle Calsean's arm, hiding my trepidation as best I could. Mother always says to show no weakness amongst lesser races, and that all races are beneath the dragons. I drew my shoulders back, as regal as I could be in the restrictive human form and awkward suede dress. Fourteen was not too young to be proud and strong.

Calsean had said very little since waking me in the pre-dawn on Aldebaran, just what to wear and how to look, then he'd teleported us to this dark world. I couldn't tell where we were, other than the same dimension as the clan home. There was plenty of magic, but not the kind I was familiar with.

A shiver ran up my spine as the whistle of wind increased. I'd heard it since we arrived at this massive castle, though I'd seen no evidence that it was real. Soft and melancholy, it chilled me to the core. A more violent shiver passed through my entire body; Uncle Calsean patted my hand reassuringly.

When I met his gaze, it was anything but reassuring.

I wanted to ask him why we were here, but my tongue seemed three times too big for my mouth. We'd been walking for several minutes without seeing anyone else, nor had we reached the end of this enormous hall. Two dragon warriors could have flown wingtip-to-tip without touching the walls, and the ceiling was consumed in shadows. Everything was made of black marble, the red veins seeming to throb beneath the mirror polish. Our bootheels clicked with each step, the bare walls offering only crisp echoes.

The wind rose in a shriek as magic tingled sharply across my skin. I gasped at the sensation and halted; Calsean was forced to stop with me. We'd apparently walked through a web of illusion, the breaking of which had put my hairs on end, nibbling on every nerve.

But we'd found the end of the hall.

A massive chandelier cast silvery light upon a dais and black throne. A painting took up the entire back wall; a man and woman stood back-to-back amidst a field of the slain. Every race was represented, depicted in various states of pain and slaughter. I was impressed by the level of detail, and wanted to study it for every hidden gem.

But the throne intrigued me more. It hummed in my mind like obsidian, and it definitely looked like it had been sung into being, not carved. A great robed figure made up the back, it's robe open to let skulls spill out to form the seat and arms.

I wanted to know who could sit such a throne; the left arm was shaped like a dragon skull.

“She's more beautiful than you told me,” a voice said from behind us. My heart leapt to my throat, and I tried not to spin too quickly and reveal my fear. When I saw the speaker, there felt like I could hide very little from him.

He was albino, though his irises were blue not red. Uplifted eyes like an elf marked his race, though their shape and the sweep of his ears were from an obscure clan. Long hair was braided away from his face in an elaborate design, and a simple silver band encircled his head. Silk robes were highly embroidered, and they highlighted is trim, tall body. We both wore heeled boots, and were of a height, though I was of a heavier build.

It was his eyes I couldn't look away from. They haunted me, as if from a dream. Or a nightmare. They pierced to the very root of my soul, exposing every dark secret, every weakness, leaving me vulnerable and naked to his stare.

Mother's remembered voice echoed through my head. “Never be less than proud. No one is better than you, despite your mixed blood.” I was only half, but that still meant I was dragon, that I was better than this unknown elf lord. I would not be treated like some peasant girl.

“Who are you to address us with such familiarity?” I drew my shoulders back and lifted my chin; the posture of a dragon looking down they're snout at an upstart challenger.

My uncle stiffened beside me, and it took every ounce of willpower not to look at him. Why would he fear this man? “I'm sorry, my lord. She's young, and-”

The stranger cut him off with a small gesture, smiling at me. Smirking, rather, eyes narrowed and boring into my skull. “You should be sorry. I expected that you would have explained to her why she was here.”

Ice stole into my veins. Was this another suitor, chosen by Leyisha's schemes? My chin dropped a notch, my shoulders not riding as high. Dragon arrogance and clan pride kept me from taking a draconic mate; why hadn't it stopped her from conceiving me?

The albino elf bowed suddenly, deeply, with right hand over his heart. hair cascading forward over his shoulders. “Greetings, Morrigana, princess of the Takishidar Clan. I,Ulrin Shalafae, Lord of Lost Souls, Master of the Dreaming Throne, Last Emperor of the Sidhehan Empire, titles ad naseum, am honored to make your acquaintance.” He glanced up through his lashes, giving me a serpent's smile. “May I tell you that you are more beautiful than I have ever been told?”

I couldn't suppress the shiver that ran up the length of my spine. Uncle Calsean patted my hand, but I felt utterly alone as I watched the elf lord straighten and step closer. What was going on here? Mother wanted to use me as a pawn to strengthen the clan through outside means; this man seemed to have titles galore, but did he have the power that went with them?

Lord Shalafae reached into a pocket of his robes and withdrew a silver necklace. “To commemorate our meeting, may I offer the lady a gift?”

Calsean squeezed my hand, pulling me back half a step. “My lord.” His voice held a slight growl, with less deference than anything he'd said so far.

Part of me wanted to look at my uncle, get a better reading of what upset him so deeply, but I couldn't take my eyes off the ruby hanging from the necklace. It sparked and flashed with inner fire, the deep color of thick blood, perfectly smooth and shaped like a tear. I'd never seen anything quite like it, had never felt one so powerful.

“It's just a necklace,” the albino said softly, setting the ruby to swinging. “Just a beautiful gift for a beautiful young lady. If she wants it.”

His attempt at enticement worked. I wanted the gem, wanted to hold it and touch it and taste it. Dragons were well-known for their love of bright and shiny objects, and my hybrid nature did nothing to quell that desire. “I'll take it,” I said softly, reaching for the necklace.

Lord Shalafae gave a small sound of triumph, then gestured with his free hand. “Turn around. Lift your hair.”

I followed his instructions, pulling my black hair into a mass atop my head. As the elf lord approached, I met my uncle's eyes. They were painfully sad, but his jaw was set in a fierce line. If he were so bothered by this man, why bring me here?

When our host stood directly behind me, I had a sudden inkling of what my uncle feared. Shalafae's aura wove though mine like a graveyard mist, passing through every defense I had built. My heart raced and breathing was difficult, but I didn't move away. Didn't want to move away.

He wrapped the necklace around my neck, fingertips brushing my skin; a small sigh escaped me, goosebumps racing up my arms. Shalafae clasped the chain, and it felt as though winter descended upon my soul. A frown creased my brows, and I started to step away.

Lord Shalafae wrapped his arms around me in a fierce grip, mouth falling to my throat. I cried out, eyes wide with terror, clawing at his wrists. I needed to be free, but I couldn't break his grip How was he this strong? Why wasn't Calsean helping me?

My attacker began to feed then, drawing on my ki in ways I didn't expect, that I was too young to know. He bit down, his teeth tearing at tender skin, painful, causing me to attempt to pull away. There was no escape though.

I tried to transform, to drop this cumbersome form, to take my natural shape. Lash out with claws and teeth, then fly away.

But I couldn't. The magic wouldn't respond. Bones didn't shift, flesh didn't stretch, wings remained dormant. I hung helpless in his arms, being slowly drained, my knees buckling. “Uncle,” I whimpered, aching with the need for freedom.

Lord Shalafae broke his bite with a groan, his arms shifting around my torso, holding me upright. “Oh, surprise of surprises,” he whispered, lips brushing my ear. Tears ran down my face, and I cringed away from the kiss he planted on my cheek. “She's more innocent than I expected. Tell your rheksha her tribute is acceptable.”

What could he possibly mean by tribute? I stared at my uncle, imploring him to contradict the evil man holding me. He wouldn't meet my gaze, keeping his eyes lowered; he nodded and walked past us.

“No!” I shrieked with all the strength of my young voice. Fresh tears ran in hot trails from my eyes, and I struggled and kicked, praying at Shalafae's restraining hands. “Don't leave me. Uncle!” I barely heard his retreating footsteps over my sobs.

The lord lowered his mouth to my neck again. “Now the real fun begins.”

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